Express press service
BHUBANESWAR: Even at the age of 88, Uday Narayan Dev’s eyes light up when he sees a rare bird. He has found another quest, a great story waiting to unfold.
It begins another deep dive into ancient Indian scriptures – the Vedas, Puranas and Sanskrit texts – to find and establish the existence of these species thousands of years ago, and document them in the current context.
“Each bird has a past that dates back millennia, and each has a fascinating history, mention or representation in our ancient culture. My quest to explore their stories is endless,” says the royal and eminent ornithologist from Sanakhemundi who recently published his most comprehensive book on birds ‘Vihanga Samhita’.
Having spent more than four decades of his life studying the birds of the South Asian subcontinent, Dev says the book is one of a kind. It is the result of 45 years of extensive research as part of his project which he calls “Orientalizing Oriental Ornithology”.
Presented in six volumes, the book is not only a dictionary of over 2,085 birds according to their order, family, subfamily and genus, but also provides a Sanskrit taxonomy of birds of the subcontinent, the names of birds in all Indian languages and explains 127 color plates on birds. “Vihanga Samhita” was released by Governor Prof Ganeshi Lal on January 21.
“Do you know that Indian martial science has followed the flamingo bird combat training tact for the training of infantry in the battlefield? This is evident from Aruna Krauncha Vyuha in the Mahabharat. of hawks and eagles,” says Dev.
Ornithology as a science is practiced in the universally accepted European style. But, little is known or explored about the vast knowledge base that our Sanskrit and Vedic literatures provide. Epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana or even Charaka Samhita are practically treasure troves on bird species with painstaking detail, he says.
Another interesting story is Dev’s passion for birdwatching and his eventual rise as a unique chronicler of avian heritage. The electoral defeat turned a hobby into a full-time occupation.
Although he began to study birds with reference to our ancient culture since 1975, he became completely absorbed in it in 1984 after losing the election. But before that, he was elected MP three times in 1974, 1977 and 1980 in the Assembly constituency of Mohana.
“I started working on this book in 1975 after being invited to do so by Raja Dharmakumar Singhji of Bhavnagar, an avid falconer. Since ornithologists like EC Stewart Baker and Dr Salim Ali had already written about the birds of the under Indian continent, Maharajaji suggested me to explore Vedas, Samhitas, Puranas and all kinds of ancient bird literature,” says Dev, who is considered Odisha’s first ornithologist.
“My study began then and now after 45 years I have published Vihanga Samhita which is the result of an intensive effort to unearth ancient intricacies of ornithological facts many of which are not yet known to people today,” adds he.
He inherited an interest in birds from his late father Nandakishor Anangabhima Dev Keshari Gajapati Maharaj, who was also a falconer, of Sanakhemundi. He does not have a professional degree in ornithology. “Nature has been my teacher and the forest my classroom,” says the conservationist.
He built a bird museum to train young people in ornithology as part of his “Vihanga Project” in Chilika. He was also honored with the Biju Patnaik Prize for Wildlife Conservation for his contribution to avian research and conservation as well as his popularization and doctorate in science by OUAT.